Excerpt from: “Images of America: Morro Bay” (Arcadia Publishing 2006) by Roger Castle and Gary Ream for the Historical Society of Morro Bay: Morro Bay, along California’s Central Coast, is among the most visually spectacular communities in America. It has a rich early history that stretches back to the adventures of the Chumash and Salinian Native Americans and visits by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and the Manila Galleons of the 16th Century.
In 1542, Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo named Morro Bay’s magnificent landmark “El Morro” (Spanish for crown shaped hill). Morro Rock is also sometimes called the “Gibraltar of the Pacific.” It is the last of a line of long-extinct volcanoes formed about 23 million years ago, which include nine peaks ranging from San Luis Obispo to Morro Bay. These peaks are aptly named the Nine Sisters because they are all in a row, and in close proximity. Morro Rock is a State Historic Landmark, a bird sanctuary and home to nesting Peregrine Falcons. It is therefore closed to any climbing or disturbance. At a height of 576 feet, Morro Rock has been an important marine navigational aid for over 300 years. It is likely the most photographed of all the Nine Sisters, and serves as Morro Bay’s gateway to the Pacific Ocean.
Its modern history begins with the tragic story of one of the town’s founding fathers, Reverend Alden B. Spooner. During the midst of a heavy arctic storm, on the night of February 5, 1877, the Reverend Spooner heard the call of duty. The steamboat Mary Taylor was overdue. Rev. Spooner wasn’t feeling well, but he rowed out into the squall in his small boat. He was in the North Channel, near Pilot Rock, when his craft capsized. His body was never found. Prohibition stories of Canadian whiskey on the Rock abound as economically hard-pressed farmers, fishermen, and tugboat operators facilitated the landing of Canadian distillates near Morro Bay. Miles Castle and other refugees from a failed land settlement for English immigrants in the Central Valley joined with Neil Moses, a colorful newspaper editor, Dorothy Gates, a college librarian and Dr. Jack Levitt, a physician from Minnesota, to form a literary society and journal and bring high culture to Morro Bay in the 1930s. In the beginning this history was passed on from family to family during the evenings in this then remote fishing village. Much of this oral tradition was later gathered together by Dorothy Gates, Jane Horton Bailey, and others and preserved in print. As the community at large grew conscious of its rich past, community-based groups were formed. They continue today, gathering both artifacts and images to preserve Morro Bay’s history.